Many of Dickens’ characters are “flat”, not “round”, in the novelist E. M. Forster’s famous terms, meaning roughly that they have only one mood. In Tale, for example, the Marquis is unremittingly wicked and relishes being so; Lucie is perfectly loving and supportive. (As a corollary, Dickens often gives these characters verbal tics or visual quirks that he mentions over and over, such as the dints in the nose of the Marquis.) Forster believed that Dickens never truly created rounded characters. Sydney Carton – A quick-minded but depressed English barrister alcoholic and cynic. Sydney Carton proves the most dynamic character in A Tale of Two Cities. He first appears as a lazy, alcoholic attorney who cannot muster even the smallest amount of interest in his own life. He describes his existence as a supreme waste of life and takes every opportunity to declare that he cares for nothing and no one. But the reader senses, even in the initial chapters of the novel, that Carton in fact feels something that he perhaps cannot articulate. In his conversation with the recently acquitted Charles Darnay, Carton’s comments about Lucie Manette, while bitter and sardonic, betray his interest in, and budding feelings for, the gentle girl. Eventually, Carton reaches a point where he can admit his feelings to Lucie herself.
Before Lucie weds Darnay, Carton professes his love to her, though he still persists in seeing himself as essentially worthless. This scene marks a vital transition for Carton and lays the foundation for the supreme sacrifice that he makes at the novel’s end. Carton’s death has provided much material for scholars and critics of Dickens’s novel. Some readers consider it the inevitable conclusion to a work obsessed with the themes of redemption and resurrection. According to this interpretation, Carton becomes a Christ-like figure, a selfless martyr whose death enables the happiness of his beloved and ensures his own immortality. Other readers, however, question the ultimate significance of Carton’s final act.
They argue that since Carton initially places little value on his existence, the sacrifice of his life proves relatively easy. However, Dickens’s frequent use in his text of other resurrection imagery—his motifs of wine and blood, for example—suggests that he did intend for Carton’s death to be redemptive, whether or not it ultimately appears so to the reader. As Carton goes to the guillotine, the narrator tells us that he envisions a beautiful, idyllic Paris “rising from the abyss” and sees “the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.” Just as the apocalyptic violence of the revolution precedes a new society’s birth, perhaps it is only in the sacrifice of his life that Carton can establish his life’s great worth.
Lucie Manette – An ideal pre-Victorian lady, perfect in every way. She was loved by both Carton and Charles Darnay (whom she marries), and is the daughter of Dr. Manette. She is the “golden thread” after whom Book Two is named, so called because she holds her father’s and her family’s lives together (and because of her blond hair like her mother’s). She also ties nearly every character in the book together. One way you may approach Lucie Manette is as the central figure of the novel. Think about the many ways she affects her fellow
characters. Although she is not responsible for liberating her father, Dr. Manette, from the Bastille, Lucie is the agent who restores his damaged psyche through unselfish love and devotion. She maintains a calm, restful atmosphere in their Soho lodgings, attracting suitors (Charles Darnay, Stryver, Sydney Carton) and brightening the life of family friend Jarvis Lorry.
Home is Lucie’s chosen territory, where she displays her fireside virtues of tranquility, fidelity, and motherhood. It’s as a symbol of home that her centrality and influence are greatest. Even her physical attributes promote domestic happiness: her blonde hair is a “golden thread” binding her father to health and sanity, weaving a fulfilling life for her eventual husband, Charles Darnay, and their daughter.
Lucie is central, too, in the sense that she’s caught in several triangles- the most obvious one involving Carton and Darnay. Lucie marries Darnay (he’s upcoming and handsome, the romantic lead) and exerts great influence on Carton.
A second, subtler triangle involves Lucie, her father, and Charles Darnay. The two men share an ambiguous relationship. Because Lucie loves Darnay, Dr. Manette must love him, too. Yet Darnay belongs to the St. Evremonde family, cause of the doctor’s long imprisonment, and is thus subject to his undying curse. Apart from his ancestry, Darnay poses the threat, by marrying Lucie, of replacing Dr. Manette in her affections.
At the very end of the novel you’ll find Lucie caught in a third triangle- the struggle between Miss Pross and Madame Defarge. Miss Pross, fighting for Lucie, is fighting above all for love. Her triumph over Madame Defarge is a triumph over chaos and vengeance.
Let’s move now from Lucie’s influence on other characters to Lucie herself. Sydney Carton, who loves Lucie devotedly, labels her a “little golden doll.” Carton means this ironically- he’s hiding his true feelings from Stryver- but some readers have taken his words at face value. They see Lucie as a cardboard creation, and her prettiness and family devotion as general traits, fitting Dickens’ notions of the ideal woman.
Readers fascinated with Dickens’ life have traced Lucie’s origins to Ellen Ternan, the 18-year-old actress Dickens was infatuated with while writing A Tale. Ellen was blonde, and she shared Lucie’s habit of worriedly knitting her brows. Of course, the artist who draws on real life nearly always transforms it into something else, something original.
Finally, consider viewing Lucie allegorically- as a character acting on a level beyond the actual events of the story. Dickens frequently mentions Lucie’s golden hair. The theme of light versus dark is one that runs all through A Tale, and Lucie’s fair hair seems to ally her with the forces of light. The force of dark seems to come from Lucie’s opposite in most respects, the brunette Madame Defarge. Charles Darnay – A young French noble of the Evrémonde family. In disgust at the cruelty of his family to the French peasantry, he has taken on the name “Darnay” (after his mother’s maiden name, D’Aulnais) and left France for England. He exhibits an admirable honesty in his decision to reveal to Doctor Manette his true identity as a member of the infamous Evrémonde family. So, too, does he prove his courage in his decision to return to Paris at great personal risk to save the imprisoned Gabelle. Charles Darnay – A French aristocrat by birth, Darnay chooses to live in England because he cannot bear to be associated with the cruel injustices of the French social system.
Darnay displays great virtue in his rejection of the snobbish and cruel values of his uncle, the Marquis Evrémonde. He exhibits an admirable honesty in his decision to reveal to Doctor Manette his true identity as a member of the infamous Evrémonde family. So, too, does he prove his courage in his decision to return to Paris at great personal risk to save the imprisoned Gabelle. He is a well groomed and good looking man. Dr. Alexandre Manette – Lucie’s father, kept as a prisoner in the Bastille for eighteen years. Dickens uses Doctor Manette to illustrate one of the dominant motifs of the novel: the essential mystery that surrounds every human being. As Jarvis Lorry makes his way toward France to recover Manette, the narrator reflects that “every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.” For much of the novel, the cause of Manette’s incarceration remains a mystery both to the other characters and to the reader. Even when the story concerning the evil Marquis Evrémonde comes to light, the conditions of Manette’s imprisonment remain hidden. Though the reader never learns exactly how Manette suffered, his relapses into trembling sessions of shoemaking evidence the depth of his misery. Like Carton, Manette undergoes a drastic change over the course of the novel.
He is transformed from an insensate prisoner who mindlessly cobbles shoes into a man of distinction. The contemporary reader tends to understand human individuals not as fixed entities but rather as impressionable and reactive beings, affected and influenced by their surroundings and by the people with whom they interact. In Dickens’s age, however, this notion was rather revolutionary. Manette’s transformation testifies to the tremendous impact of relationships and experience on life. The strength that he displays while dedicating himself to rescuing Darnay seems to confirm the lesson that Carton learns by the end of the novel—that not only does one’s treatment of others play an important role in others’ personal development, but also that the very worth of one’s life is determined by its impact on the lives of others. Monsieur Ernest Defarge – The owner of a French wine shop and leader of the Jacquerie; husband of Madame Defarge; servant to Dr. Manette as a youth. One of the key revolutionary leaders, he leads the revolution with a noble cause, unlike many of other revolutionaries.
A wine shop owner and revolutionary in the poor Saint Antoine section of Paris, Monsieur Defarge formerly worked as a servant for Doctor Manette. Defarge proves an intelligent and committed revolutionary, a natural leader. Although he remains dedicated to bringing about a better society at any cost, he does demonstrate a kindness toward Manette. His wife, Madame Defarge, views this consideration for Manette as a weakness. He was a bull-necked man and had a look of a military man Madame Therese Defarge – A vengeful female revolutionary, arguably the novel’s antagonist A cruel revolutionary whose hatred of the aristocracy fuels her tireless crusade, Madame Defarge spends a good deal of the novel knitting a register of everyone who must die for the revolutionary cause. Unlike her husband, she proves unrelentingly blood-thirsty, and her lust for vengeance knows no bounds. Possessing a remorseless bloodlust, Madame Defarge embodies the chaos of the French Revolution. The initial chapters of the novel find her sitting quietly and knitting in the wine shop. However, her apparent passivity belies her relentless thirst for vengeance.
With her stitches, she secretly knits a register of the names of the revolution’s intended victims. As the revolution breaks into full force, Madame Defarge reveals her true viciousness. She turns on Lucie in particular, and, as violence sweeps Paris, she invades Lucie’s physical and psychological space. She effects this invasion first by committing the faces of Lucie and her family to memory, in order to add them to her mental “register” of those slated to die in the revolution. Later, she bursts into the young woman’s apartment in an attempt to catch Lucie mourning Darnay’s imminent execution. Dickens notes that Madame Defarge’s hatefulness does not reflect any inherent flaw, but rather results from the oppression and personal tragedy that she has suffered at the hands of the aristocracy, specifically the Evrémondes, to whom Darnay is related by blood, and Lucie by marriage. However, the author refrains from justifying Madame Defarge’s policy of retributive justice. For just as the aristocracy’s oppression has made an oppressor of Madame Defarge herself, so will her oppression, in turn, make oppressors of her victims.
Madame Defarge’s death by a bullet from her own gun—she dies in a scuffle with Miss Pross—symbolizes Dickens’s belief that the sort of vengeful attitude embodied by Madame Defarge ultimately proves a self-damning one. Jacques One, Two, and Three – Revolutionary compatriots of Ernest Defarge. Jacques Three is especially bloodthirsty and serves as a juryman on the Revolutionary Tribunals. The Vengeance – A companion of Madame Defarge referred to as her “shadow” and lieutenant, a member of the sisterhood of women revolutionaries in Saint Antoine, and revolutionary zealot. (Many Frenchmen and women did change their names to show their enthusiasm for the Revolution) The Mender of Roads – A peasant who later works as a woodsawyer and assists the Defarges. Jarvis Lorry – An elderly manager at Tellson’s Bank and a dear friend of Dr. Manette. An elderly businessman who works for Tellson’s Bank, Mr. Lorry is a very business-oriented bachelor with a strong moral sense and a good, honest heart. He proves trustworthy and loyal, and Doctor Manette and Lucie come to value him as a personal friend. he is nearly 80 years old. Miss Pross – Lucie Manette’s governess since Lucie was ten years old. Fiercely loyal to Lucie and to England.
The servant who raised Lucie, Miss Pross is brusque, tough, and fiercely loyal to her mistress. Because she personifies order and loyalty, she provides the perfect foil to Madame Defarge, who epitomizes the violent chaos of the revolution. The Marquis St. Evrémonde – The cruel uncle of Charles Darnay. Also called “The Younger.” He inherited the title at “the Elder”‘s death. Charles Darnay’s uncle, the Marquis Evrémonde is a French aristocrat who embodies an inhumanly cruel caste system. He shows absolutely no regard for human life and wishes that the peasants of the world would be exterminated. The Elder and his wife – The twin brother of the Marquis St. Evremonde, referred to as “the Elder” (he held the title of Marquis St. Evrémonde at the time of Dr. Manette’s arrest), and his wife, who fears him. They are the parents of Charles Darnay. John Barsad (real name Solomon Pross) – A spy for Britain who later becomes a spy for France (at which point he must hide that he is British). He is the long-lost brother of Miss Pross. Like Roger Cly, John Barsad is a British spy who swears that patriotism is his only motive. Barsad falsely claims to be a virtuous man of upstanding reputation.
Informer who serves as a turnkey in the Conciergerie in Paris Roger Cly – Another spy, Barsad’s collaborator. Like John Barsad, Roger Cly is a British spy who swears that patriotism alone inspires all of his actions. Cly feigns honesty but in fact constantly participates in conniving schemes. Jerry Cruncher – Porter and messenger for Tellson’s Bank and secret “Resurrection Man” (body-snatcher). His first name is short for Jeremiah. An odd-job man for Tellson’s Bank, Cruncher is gruff, short-tempered, superstitious, and uneducated. He supplements his income by working as a “Resurrection-Man,” one who digs up dead bodies and sells them to scientists. Young Jerry Cruncher – Son of Jerry and Mrs. Cruncher. Young Jerry often follows his father around to his father’s odd jobs, and at one point in the story, follows his father at night and discovers that his father is a resurrection man. Young Jerry looks up to his father as a role model, and aspires to become a resurrection man himself when he grows up. Mrs. Cruncher – Wife of Jerry Cruncher. She is a very religious woman, but her husband, being a bit paranoid, claims she is praying against him, and that is why he doesn’t succeed at work often.
She is often abused verbally, and almost as often, abused physically, by Jerry, but at the end of the story, he appears to feel a bit guilty about this. Mr. C.J. Stryver – An arrogant and ambitious barrister, senior to Sydney Carton. There is a frequent mis-perception that Stryver’s full name is “C. J. Stryver”, but this is very unlikely. The mistake comes from a line in Book 2, Chapter 12: “After trying it, Stryver, C. J., was satisfied that no plainer case could be.” The initials C. J. almost certainly refer to a legal title (probably “chief justice”); Stryver is imagining that he is playing every role in a trial in which he browbeats Lucie Manette into marrying him. n ambitious lawyer, Stryver dreams of climbing the social ladder. Unlike his associate, Sydney Carton, Stryver is bombastic, proud, and foolish. The Seamstress – A young woman caught up in The Terror. She precedes Sydney Carton, who comforts her, to the guillotine.
Théophile Gabelle – Gabelle is “the Postmaster, and some other taxing functionary, united” for the tenants of the Marquis St. Evrémonde. Gabelle is imprisoned by the revolutionaries, and his beseeching letter brings Darnay to France. Gabelle is “named after the hated salt tax”. The man charged with keeping up the Evrémonde estate after the Marquis’ death, Gabelle is imprisoned by the revolutionaries. News of his internment prompts Darnay to travel to France to save him. Gaspard – Gaspard is the man whose son is run over by the Marquis. He then kills the Marquis and goes into hiding for a year. He eventually is found, arrested, and executed. “Monseigneur” – The appellation “Monseigneur” is used to refer to both a specific aristocrat in the novel, as well as the general class of displaced aristocrats in England. A peasant boy and his sister – Victims of the Marquis St. Evremonde and his brother. They are Madame Defarge’s brother and sister.